RAVENNA — Every game this postseason, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy boys soccer coach Angelo Finelli has preached an old soccer adage to his team.
"Against good teams, you’ve got to take your chances," Finelli said.
The Royals have had problems converting their scoring chances at times throughout this tournament. On Wednesday against Warren Howland, that tendency conspired with the Tigers’ defense to end the Royals’ season.
Howland scored on its only shot on goal in the contest, handing the Royals a 1-0 defeat in a Division I regional semifinal game at Portage Community Bank Stadium in Ravenna.
Howland remained undefeated at 19-0-1 and advanced to Saturday’s Division I regional final vs. Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin. CVCA ended its season at 14-3-2.
Finelli said the loss hurt, because the Royals didn’t play poorly. CVCA finished with a 6-1 edge in shots on goal and a huge edge in possession, especially in the second half.
"Unfortunately, sometimes the game beats you," Finelli said. "It was there only shot on goal that won it. We were creating chances, but you need to be able to convert those chances."
"We’ve been on the wrong side of that before. Soccer can be a cruel game sometimes," said Howland coach Brian Stiles, who noted the Tigers were heading to their first regional final since the 1990s.
Both coaches noted that, despite being under pressure most of the contest, Howland’s defense played a nearly flawless game.
"It’s an all-senior backline. They’ve played a lot of soccer together," Stiles said, though he noted he didn’t prefer his defense playing so deep. "CVCA had a lot to do with that. They put a lot of pressure on us."
"They defended very well," Finelli said. "They were able to get a lot of people behind the ball to slow us down."
Under rainy skies in Ravenna, both teams seemed to struggle to control the ball early. The longer the first half went, however, the more CVCA compacted Howland into its own end.
CVCA’s best chance in the first half may have come in the 34th minute, when Luke Petno served a free kick to the back post. CVCA’s Jack Hyatt got a shot off at close range, but Howland goaltender Lucas Brill made the save off his chest and smothered the rebound.
Brill had a solid night, finishing with six saves and commanding his area. He noted it was difficult to play in the slippery conditions.
"[Stiles] just said we needed to step up, and I think we did tonight," Brill said. "It’s extremely hard to play in this. Obviously, I dropped a few balls tonight, but my backline was there every time."
With the match tied 0-0 at the half, the moment came for Howland in the 42nd minute.
Midfielder Austin Stassinis made a run down the left sideline and sent a cross toward the box. The ball was contested and deflected to the center of the box, where Howland midfielder Gabe Lisi ran onto it.
Lisi lifted a high shot over CVCA keeper Cameron Young and into the net to make it 1-0.
Neither Young nor CVCA starting goalie JD Bylerly made a save in the game.
After the goal, CVCA amped up its pressure, but the frustration level mounted for the Royals as the game went on. CVCA earned six corner kicks in the second half, but was unable to convert any into goals.
A corner kick in the 78th minute provided CVCA with one last chance. After Petno’s shot went wide of goal, CVCA was able to get the ball back. Forward Justin Luiza sent a turnaround shot on net, only to be denied by a diving save from Brill.
Howland was able to run out the clock from there.
Luisza, Byerly, Hyatt and eight other seniors will graduate this spring from the Royals.
"It hurts," Finelli said. "I’m going to miss the seniors, like I do every year. The worst part of this is these guys aren’t going to get any more time to play together as a team."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO